Paramount // 2009 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // July 21st, 2009
Security comes at a price...
Last year a film called Eagle Eye opened and made a whole heap of money. The film stank but the conceptual hook offered by the picture, which rotated around the concerns of our surveillance society, was enough to draw people in and waste their money on a borderline unwatchable thriller. It seems the mass paranoia in society today is enough to overcome lousy filmmaking and turn a movie into a $100 million hit, quality be damned.
This year another similarly themed film opened called Echelon Conspiracy. However unlike Eagle Eye, nobody went to see this new slice of surveillance tripe and it bombed, making less than $2 million domestically. Was it any worse than its 2008 counterpart? Hell no. Was it any better? Probably not. It's hard to fathom why the people of the world took one of these tech turkeys so close to heart whilst the other was left out in the cold...but hey -- at least it shows a growth in cinematic discrimination, because frankly they don't deserve a nickel between them.
Max Peterson (Shane West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) is a computer security expert and after completing a job in Thailand he receives a flashy cell phone from an anonymous admirer. Initially he shrugs it off as a client's reserved way of saying thanks, but things get hard to overlook when Max starts receiving text messages. The messages are all tips on ways to make easy cash, they encourage him to buy shares that sky rocket 300% and play certain slot machines all primed to pay out. However his luck attracts the attention of both Casino security and the FBI, both curious as to how Max's fortune has so quickly amassed. The situation takes a turn in a sinister direction when Max and those interrogating him start getting threats from the phone and it transpires that what was once a blessing might well be a curse, one with very dangerous repercussions for the whole world if it isn't stopped.
Man's overreliance on technology in undeniable, and I'm also certain that a great thriller could be mined from this concept. Recently there have been a few fun action pictures that have toyed with the idea such as Live Free or Die Hard, but for the life of me I struggle to remember a single modern day movie that has exploited said situation to full effect. Director Greg Marcks certainly hasn't mined the conceit successfully with Echelon Conspiracy, a tired and obvious effort with a supremely stupid conclusion.
The film features several recognizable faces, which is hard to understand. There are several quality actors in Echelon Conspiracy all tarnishing their CV's by starring in this idiotic smash up of a film. The like of Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction) and Martin Sheen (The Departed) have no business appearing in such shoddy work and actually lowering the standard themselves. Sheen in particular wastes his tremendous talent by handing in a performance in which he merely shouts and smirks playing a caricature of a high profile government operative. Shane West doesn't impress as the handsome lead either, his attempts at creating an everyman thrown into a hellish situation are ruined by his insistence on quipping and lukewarm dialogue delivery. His performance has no energy or genuine fear to power it and thus the audience never really buys him as a man with his life on the line. Ed Burns (Saving Private Ryan) is also present in the commodity of a Casino staff member with CIA credentials and whilst he's far from the movies biggest offender, he coasts with minimum enthusiasm.
The screenplay is badly written and the story features little of originality or interest. Screenwriters Kevin Elders and Michael Nitsberg attempt to mix technology induced terror, big screen action, and a little romance but fail to deliver any of trio in an acceptable form. The elements at the film's core revolving around rogue super computers and menacing text messages are half baked and shallow, never plugged to any depths which might offer interesting social commentary or even vaguely enjoyable cinema. The fact the action scenes fail so miserably is probably more the fault of Marcks, trying to channel the spirit of Paul Greengrass but slipping at every turn. His set-pieces are hastily shot but they lack the inventive trickery of superior actioners or the high octane buzz of genre highlights. At times he also seems scuppered by budgeting. Echelon Conspiracy wants to seem like a blockbuster but hasn't the financial backbone to support such an ambition, and thus we are handed a selection of rancid and curiously tame moments of mayhem and carnage.
The dialogue is despicable and the attempts at conjuring up a romantic subplot are laughably rushed and unbelievable. It's as if the filmmakers felt they needed a little extra runtime and reshot a pitifully vapid romance to bulk things up. The film wraps up in the way one might expect a bad science fiction picture of the 1950's to conclude, lazily and in a fashion that almost renders the previous 105 minutes pointless. The way that Echelon Conspiracyties itself up is bizarre in the extreme and effectively turns the story itself into one big plot hole.
The movie isn't any good and it's rejection by the public is no tragedy but I can't help but wonder why Echelon Conspiracy flopped and the equally annoying Eagle Eye flounced it's way to big box-office. Maybe after watching Eagle Eye people just wised up and respected what critics had to say on the subject of these supposedly relevant techno trash fests or maybe Echelonjust got unlucky. Whatever the case in that slightly puzzling enigma this is a film that got what it deserved, i.e., nothing.
Paramount has assembled a terrible DVD for the movie. The disc is vanilla and whilst the audio and video are perfectly fine, it's clear that not even the studios gave a second thought about this one. It won't be winning any converts on such a horrible disc; maybe the studio's accepting this one would be a failure no matter what. If that is the case I have to admire the fact they have come to terms with their losses and hopefully won't make the same mistake by investing in another poorly made piece of manipulative tripe.
The fact a preview for Eagle Eye is present on the disc provides a post viewing chuckle. However unless you crave slightly amusing ironies then this is still to be avoided.
Nobody went to see it and nobody will want to see it. Just forget it exists and let it disappear onto the dusty bottom shelves of video stores worldwide.
No need to sugar coat this verdict. Echelon Conspiracy is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13